Day 68: flash flood edition 

I woke up at 530 this morning. Then again at 6 and again at 630 when I gave up and started packing my gear. I was basically ready to go by 7, but breakfast didn’t start until 8, so I laid back in bed and downloaded a bird app and a plant identifying app. Been meaning to do that for about 3 town stops now. Let the nerdiness continue. As I lay in bed, I heard the trill of loons calling from the pond. Such a chortle of a sound. Then I heard halfway from his room say “loons!” He texted me around 730 to say breakfast was open early. I ate my granola breakfast and deli banana with the yogurt from the kitchen. Strawberry. Bleh. But it did the trick. I packed out an English muffin and a hard boiled egg for later in the day. 
I was back on trail around 815. The air was thick with moisture and mosquitoes, which kept biting me on my shoulders through my damn tshirt. The trail was soggy, but not passable, and I made good time to thundering falls. They definitely earned their name, as I could hear the crash of water from the road crossing a quarter mile away. After the falls came a neverending climb. Sweat dripped off my nose as I looked down at my phone texting with a music friend making plans for a little post-band camp extended social time. By the time I reached the top of the climb, I was drenched. I heard thunder in the distance and hoped it would roll on by. I came to the power lines and tripped on a rock, which sent a dog into a barking fit. Which dog? Disco! He ran towards me through the tall grass.

 I found moss hanging out on a good rock checking out his map. He whined about the climb, which I appreciated. We had a brief discussion about where we were headed for the day. I’m hoping to get to a place called the lookout, which is a privately owned unfurnished cabin that hikers are allowed to sleep in on Lookout Farm. The beauty of it is that there is a rooftop 360 degree view, which means: SUNRISE. 
The rain began as soon as I left moss and disco. It quickly went from a light drizzle to a downpour. My brain kept saying rush! Get under a roof! But there was no point in rushing because the nearest roof was about 3 miles away, and I was already soaked. About 30 minutes into the rain, I heard a noise behind me and turned around to find halfway and a woman named smiley on my ass. We were basically nose to nose when I looked behind me. This made me cranky, as did watching halfway nearly sprint down the trail. I plodded along, thinking to myself that I couldn’t possibly rush or else I would fall. What happened in that exact moment? I totally ate in on a muddy, flat rock and went down in a semi-controlled fall. I wrenched my left thumb and got a muddy right butt cheek, but no permanent damage done. Trail slapped again. 
I got to the closest shelter about an hour later. Moss, smiley and halfway sat at the edge of the platform looking bedraggled and a soggy disco lay in the back of the shelter. I unloaded my sopping pack, hung up my rain coat on a nail, and immediately stripped off my socks with thoughts of trench foot in my head. I plopped down next to halfway and made myself an open faced peanut butter frito honey English muffin. I have to say, it’s better in wrap form. I couldn’t handle disco’s begging face so I gave him a small bite of peanut butter muffin. I started to get cold and the rain had finally let up, so I left before everyone else. 
I expected halfway to catch me at any moment, but I didn’t see him again for many hours. Hours which were spent in rain that ranged from steady to torrential downpour accompanied by thunderstorms. The first hour after the shelter actually wasn’t bad. There was no hope of dry feet because of puddles, but it wasn’t actively raining. The trail wound around and did the usual rollercoaster of middle ground where we aren’t climbing mountains, but it’s not flat pasture land either. I kept seeing moose poop, simultaneously hoping to see a moose while being scared shitless that one would be standing in the trail ahead of me. My vigilant scanning ahead slowed down my pace, but still no halfway. 
Then came the rain. Again. And it didn’t stop until well after I reached my destination 5 miles down the trail. At some point in the middle of afternoon, I heard a large rustle and flapping noise about 4 feet to my left. A tan speckled bird about the size of a chicken went half running, half flying away from me making an awful mournful screeching noise. I heard what I think was the sound of baby birds and realized that I must have disturbed their nest with my noisy walking. I’m pretty sure the bird was some sort of grouse. It put up a huge fuss and I was worried it would fly at me, but I needed to get around it, so I kept walking. It finally flew off, screeching at me a little more for good measure. How do birds like that survive snakes? I hoped it would go back to its nest as soon as possible. 
During the height of one thunderstorm, I happened to be climbing towards the top of a ridge. As the tree cover thinned, the rain pelted me. By this point, I was walking in several inches of water and leaves. I couldn’t decide what to do. If the highest point of the ridge was exposed, it would be foolish to head there in a thunderstorm. But standing still would just make me colder (no chance of being wetter: I was soaked to the skin and hadn’t bothered to put on my raincoat because it couldn’t stand up to that kind of rain anyway). I huddled near the edge of a low pine tree, which afforded me a tiny break in rainfall, but not enough to warrant sticking around. I figured I would be better off to just keep moving. 

The slopes turned into rivers. Puddles grew to wading pools in the middle of the path. My feet sloshed around in my shoes, and I worried about the abilities of my theoretically waterproof bag.* I keep my sleeping bag, pad and clothes in a trash compactor bag to cover just such situations. I felt a buzzing in my hip pocket where I’d relocated my phone. Flash flood alert for the area until 630p. It just gets better! 
The rain let up a fraction as I made my way closer to the Lookout. I had about a mile to go when I heard more rumbling off in the distance. I picked up the pace as best I could, but at least one step out of 10 ended with my heel sliding three or four inches through leaf strewn mud. The rain intensified, and I gave up on rushing. 

The turn off for the shelter led me to a steep rocky drive, at the end of which stood the lookout cabin. I tried to take pictures of the inside, but it’s hard to make sense of the space. It’s a one room cabin with a sleeping loft, a theoretically working fireplace, and enough floor space to fit a dozen hikers. The owners of lookout farm allow us to sleep here, and I really hope it stays that way for a long time because the view is incredible. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

I opened the door to find flip phone reading in his hammock and a guy named ketchup reading upstairs. They’d been here since noon. Ketchup actually beat most of the rain, but flip phone got soaked. His clothes hung on a bear line slash clothes line across the room. I picked a spot by a non leaking window and put my pack down. Then I stood on the porch and changed into dry clothes, hoping I would be able to hear someone coming and warn them to wait because I was basically half naked at any given moment. I wrung out my clothes and hung them on the line even though there’s little chance of them drying overnight. Then I set up my sleeping pad, laid my sleeping bag on it and proceeded to lay there like a zombie for a few minutes. 
A couple of hikers dropped their bags on the porch and climbed up to the viewing deck. Then they came inside and said something about testing out their new tent. We all balked at the idea and I said, “wait, are you from Vermont??” Thinking only someone who grew up in this environment would be willing to set up a tent right now. I was close: they’re from New Hampshire. They were good sports about the ribbing and did indeed set up their tent. Crazy fools. 
A soaked and ragged halfway appeared about 20 minutes later. He looked wrecked, and it took him awhile to settle in. Then came moss, disco, smiley, and eventually a woman they’re hiking with named picnic (who I had lunch with on top of bromley mountain). They decided to stay here instead of continuing on 2 miles to the an official shelter up the trail. 7 people and 2 clotheslines and it feels barely half full. 
The sun decided to peek out while we all made our dinners. I abandoned my food and went up to the deck to this view: 

During the second half of dinner, moss fried cured ham that he got from a friend and has been trying to figure out when to cook for nearly a month. He just kept sending it to himself farther up the trail.

 He shared pieces of it with all of us. I don’t normally eat or care about ham, but it was so salty and so good. Sorry pig, I won’t eat you again for a long time. A new thunderstorm rolled in while we ate. Lightning flashes brightened the windows for a second at a time. halfway and I looked at the sight and found ourselves in the middle of a red and yellow blob on the radar. A giant clap of thunder made us all exclaim like children witnessing their first storm. 
We all settled into our respective areas and I began to write. I happened to look out the window a few minutes later see that the sun had come back out, casting a bright glow on the fog rolling through the mountains. I couldn’t resist, so I put on my soggy shoes and climbed back up the ladder to watch the sky (top picture for today is the western view). The eastern view had periodic rainbows, which are sadly hard to see in the picture, and giant cloud mountains: 

Moss and his hiking buddies stood on the deck with flip phone and enjoyed a green nightcap. I stood on the roof wishing I could sit down and hoping the sun would stick around long enough to see it set. Sadly a wall of fog consumed the view, so I went back down to my sleeping bag. Standing still makes my legs stiffen more than I’ve ever experienced before. Moss came inside and began giving disco a mini leg massage that broke my heart with cuteness and made me miss my dog. 

Later on, he patted disco’s little dog bed, motioning for him to lay down and disco promptly laid in between moss’s legs on top of his sleeping bag. I’m finishing this to the waning light and the rustle of hikers shifting in their bags. I’m about to be one of those noisy shifters because these long johns are way too hot to sleep in. 
Mile 1704.8 to mile 1718.1 (13.3) 
Total miles: 715.1 
Creature feature: In the middle of one of the storms, heard a noise like a horse chuffing off to my left that freaked me out, but I never saw the source of it. Caught sight of a black and white warbler during one of the 2 hours that it wasn’t raining. that silly disco dog. And whatever kind of bird it was that I scared. Likely a grouse. 

*i did some searching on the zpacks website this morning. as it turns out, my pack is made from dyneema, which is highly water resistant, but not waterproof. I forgot that I chose it over cuben fiber (waterproof) because of the durability. Not the best choice for the soggy green tunnel. Oh well. 

Day 63: Little Rock pond edition 

I tossed and turned for the second half of the night. Snow White and fearless tented right next to me and Snow White kept mumbling in her sleep. Fearless would call out “Paula” (snow white’s actual name) over and over until she stopped mumbling. I woke up for good around 530. My sights were set on either another shorter day or a day of almost 15 miles. I tried not to get too attached to the longer mileage because as I told fearless when I left camp, the feet will decide. I have more than enough time to get to my Friday destination with shorter mileage, so I just have to deal with my own antsiness and fear that I’m being lazy. I’ve realized that the shorter days don’t feel hard enough and are too close to “vacation,” which somehow seems wrong. I’m so bad at “relaxing.” See, I can’t even say the word like it’s a real thing. 
It was cold enough to warrant a puffy coat and my fleece hat during breakfast. Fearless drank her coffee from her tent, refusing to leave the warmth of her sleeping bag. She eventually emerged and we gathered the others’ food bags from the trees. I had already eaten and was nearly ready to go at that point. We exchanged contact info because fearless worries that her hiking partners will mutiny soon and she joked about needing me as a backup.  

The trail started out with an easy walk alongside Griffith lake that consisted primarily of boardwalk. Here’s a view of the lake: 

There were wrinkled and fading lady slippers in clumps below the wooden planks. I worked on my resupply list while I walked, hoping I would get enough service to let it sync with my mom’s phone. That’s the main way we communicate food info. About a half mile past the lake my phone started to buzz, but it was another few minutes before service was good enough to respond. Buzzcut and I have been talking the last day or so about the potential for her to join me on the trail so we both have company and she can continue to chip away at the trail. Sadly, I’m not sure it will work out because she’s in a lot of knee pain even with minimal activity. Then there’s more planning to be done for the visit from my steady. It’s frustrating how expensive rental cars are and I’m just far enough away from New York to make it a long drive. I have to somehow figure out a shuttle situation for Sunday if we are going to make things work. This is easier said than done when I can’t make phone calls, and every time I stop to work on something, I get bombarded with mosquitoes chomping through my clothes. While I sat in my little pocket of civilized air waves, I got the list out to my mom, confirmed a couple of things and promptly lost service as soon as I started walking. 

The trail began to climb and eventually led me to baker peak which consists of exposed ledges that seemed to just kept going. 

Here’s the view of the surrounding mountains: 

The ledges gave way to pine forest and the trail descended gradually. I was preoccupied by guilt about how far the drive might be for such a short visit from my steady. My forehead slammed against a tree that had fallen over the trail some time ago. I yelled DAMN IT out loud, and I turned around and said “honestly” to the log, like it was somehow it’s fault for my distraction. I saw my service dwindling, and I knew the trail would continue to descend, so I plopped down off to one side and started trying to figure out a shuttle. I tried calling someone who works out of Hanover, but he couldn’t hear me on the other end of the line. I had just enough service to send him an email, which helped with my preoccupation. 
The trail continued to descend over the next 3 miles. It was gradual with flat, soft sections, which made for comfortable walking. I could hear the sound of a stream in the distance off to my left and the sunlight warmed me. The trail eventually transitioned to muddier rockier terrain that slowed me down and made me question the longer option for today. I could feel the cold swipe of mud against the inside of my shins as I fumbled around the rocks. 

The trail took a left turn and ran alongside big branch stream (brook? I don’t know what distinguishes these things). It’s a wide body of water with giant slabs of rocks breaking up the flow. I stopped at the bridge and ate a snack. 

Shutterbug caught up to me and we both admired the bridge. We leap frogged for much of today, taking breaks in different spots at different times. On the other side of the bridge, I got distracted by the intense flow of water over the boulders: 

After the brook, I walked past big branch shelter, which is right on the trail facing the stream. Quite the spot, but I couldn’t see much of a tenting area. The woods became dreary as the trees thinned and the clouds rolled in. I came to a registry point, so I stopped to sign myself in. Shutterbug was right behind me. We came to the road crossing together, but I stopped for lunch because I didn’t feel like walking another hour to eat at the next shelter. 
I made my lunch wrap on a rock while being thwarted by cell service that dropped and came back constantly. A woman with a baby on her back emerged from the southbound side of the trail on her way to the parking lot. We said hello. The kid toddled around like a little monkey while her mother got their lunch from the car. She asked me questions about my hike and said she couldn’t do it right now because of the toddler and a 4 year old. I dallied on my rock, sending a few texts and generally being lazy. As I put my pack on, I saw a hiker walking down the road with a dog. At first I thought it was another grungy twenty something dude.  Then I realized it was an androgynous looking queer person. I nearly jumped up and down in my spot. Instead, I waited under the guise of saying hello to their dog. I have seen exactly zero people who present the way I do (physically), so I made an unreasonable effort to keep up with them. We talked for a bit, but then they went silent and didn’t ask any questions, so I followed suit because I had been driving the conversation before that. We pulled off to let some day hikers with a dog pass by. The people asked about what we were hiking and assumed we knew each other. I said “oh no we just ran into each other around the corner.” The people were flabbergasted that we didn’t know each other. This kind of thing happens all the time. Depending on the day, I talk with at least half a dozen people who I just met but it looks (and smells) like we’ve hiked all the way from Georgia together. 
After about twenty minutes of silence, the potential queer (not to make assumptions), stopped to have a snack. I didn’t want to invade their space, so I kept going even though I was dying to stay and talk. I did however stop after a few feet and ask them what their pronouns are. This was sort of a secret handshake move, but I couldn’t help myself. When the person said “I prefer they” I felt so relieved. Finally! Someone who gets it. We talked for a minute about how it’s sometimes easier to go by she around people who are clueless. Then they made a joke about how “they” might have become my trail name if I had tried to get the seemingly predominant straight hiker community to use that pronoun. To be honest, I don’t really care for “they” either so I’m kind of screwed in the pronoun department because none of them fit. I said goodbye and kept walking, assuming I would see them at the next shelter where they were thinking about taking a swim break in the pond. 

The rest of the walk to Little Rock pond was not memorable. Rocky, flat, and kind of aggravating. I got there around 130 to find shutterbug dithering over whether to keep going. I had intentions of going to the next shelter (as did the queer*), but I wanted to wait to confirm that they were headed that way before I made the effort. Shutterbug decided to stay because he doesn’t often get to camp by a beautiful pond. I went down to the water to wait for the arrival of the queer. Time passed. I got antsy. I filtered water. The mother of some kids who were already camped out at the shelter arrived and I asked her if she’d seen a woman (sorry, queer person, it was the most straightforward descriptor) with a black dog. She said no. I was so perplexed and disappointed. I guess the queer took the side trail around the opposite side of the pond? That’s the only thing I can make out. When fearless arrived I asked if she’d seen them. Again, no. I finally gave up, but then I couldn’t decide whether to go chasing after them to the next shelter. This might seem ridiculous, but they’re honestly like the 3rd queer person I’ve seen in the last 61 days. I live in Brooklyn. I’m surrounded by queer people all the time. It’s comforting and it makes me feel reflected. Being surrounded by non-queer people is yet another way of feeling alone. Those of you who fit in all the boxes might find this hard to relate to because it’s not often that you enter a space where some part of you isn’t reflected in those around you. 
Anyway, I didn’t put my tent up as Snow White and fearless went about choosing their spots. I decided to give them my reasons for being ambivalent, which resulted in a short conversation about what it means to be gender queer and how it’s different from sexuality and it’s not necessarily about not having decided or being uncertain, etc. I was in an educating generous place with them because I like them and they seemed open to being contradicted. By that point it was 315, and I decided to just stay put even though I felt weak for only going 10 miles again. 

I pitched my tent in a somewhat lopsided spot by the shelter. Then I went down to the water and waded around while Snow White rinsed her clothes and fearless sat on a rock in the water. I thought hard about swimming, but there was just enough breeze to make it too cold. Once I get damp and cold there’s no going back. We laughed and had a good time ribbing each other. Then they went back up to camp. I stayed in the sun on a rock writing the beginning of this post and letting my feet dry out. The sun eventually went away making it too cold to be without my puffy jacket, so I went back up to camp. I sat with snow white and drank a cup of her tea to warm up. She told me about how she ended up out here. Her son bought her a backpack for Christmas and said, hey mom you should hike the Appalachian trail. She said okay why not, and here she is 600 miles later. 
Fearless came to the picnic table and we all sat around talking until we heard a distant rumble. Then came the scramble to heat water for food before the rain hit. We could have gone to the covered porch of the shelter, but the family was sprawled out and none of us felt much like integrating. I thought it would blow over, but the thunder got louder and the sky darkened. After I set up my dinner to cook, I grabbed my bear line and rock bag hoping to set up my rope before it rained. No dice. As soon as I got back to the table, it started pouring. Fearless ran for her tent. Snow White, shutterbug and I ran for the shelter where we sat and sort of talked to the parents of the family. I ran back out to get my water bottle and noticed that little balls of hail were also falling. The sound of the hail was deafening under the tin roof. After about 10 minutes, it slowed to a steady rain and then a drizzle. I did my dishes and hung a bear line closer to my tent than I’d like, but I didn’t have the energy to go searching in the rain for something better. 

I walked down to the water to see if I could pick up service. A mist had formed on the surface of the pond, and I watched it as I stood in the rain writing texts. I spend large chunks of the day not looking at my phone other than to take pictures (or obsessively check mileage) but when I’m done for the day, it’s comforting to have access to people I know. Not having service at night on a good day can create space and feel okay. On a bad day, it makes me claustrophobic. Today was somewhere in the middle. I have good company, but the rain drove us all into our tents. There’s a good chance I will be asleep by 8 because there’s just nothing else to do. I’m finishing this to the sound of rain plopping on my tent, a bird with a mechanical short burst of a chirp, and the odd scuffles and shifting from the shelter. My hands are so cold because of the rain. 
Mile 1660.8 to mile 1670.5 (9.7)

Total miles: 667.3 
Creature feature: the pond is full of salamanders and the minnows nibbled on my toes as I stood in the water. 

*regarding the use of the word queer for those of who you are less familiar with it: it’s not pejorative when used in a context such as this. we’ve reclaimed it; don’t be horrified. 

Day 62: bromley edition 

Woke up around 545 and felt like a pile of rocks, but I managed to fall back asleep until about 7. As I lay there debating whether to stay somewhere else to take a zero day to sleep, tornado crept in to finish packing his bag. He’s on the early bird shuttle back to the trail. I opted for the 9am so I could finish the blog editing I didn’t get to last night, and so I could be a lazy blob a little longer. I gave my calves and feet their morning massage to help return some semblance of range of motion before I stood up. Then I went downstairs in my sweet loaner clothes outfit (cat pajama pants and a striped men’s tshirt that’s about 4 sizes too big) and put together my yogurt granola banana breakfast. I passed on the folgers coffee brewing in the drip machine. Pretty tough choice though (said me, never). Lewis and Clark sat drinking their steaming cups of brown water and talked to me while I ate. They’re a funny bunch, and I’m sad we’re going to be a day off of each other for the foreseeable future. They’ve been married for 43 years and you can tell how well they manage conflict and the small abrasions of everyday life. When Clark found out that I’m a therapist he said “oh noooo, does that mean you’ve figured out what’s wrong with me already?” On his way to bed last night he popped his head into the computer area and said he had enjoyed getting to know me, which felt genuine and warm. He’s constantly whining about being out here, but I’m pretty sure he secretly loves it. His wife Lewis is the one who pushed for the goal and he’s out here because she didn’t want to do it alone. 
I had to rip myself away from the table to pack up my gear and get one more post out. I weighed my food bag on the bathroom scale and it came in at exactly 10 pounds. This is why my pack is so damn heavy. The whole thing, with 5 days of food, the gifted poptarts, and a little over a liter of water weighed 29 pounds. That’s about 7 more than I wanted when I first started planning. After getting my gear straight, I laid on the floor in the living room lounge and iced my feet while I setup yesterday’s post. I wish I had known there were ice packs sooner because I would have done it all afternoon. 
Shutterbug and I left around 9 with Jeff, the owner of the hostel who sounds like Casey Casem and knew just how much space to take up in the house. It might be the first time I didn’t feel suffocated by a hostel owner. We were on trail by about 915 and were met with an immediate climb up bromley mountain. I texted with a few people, which slowed me down even more than my heavy pack. I asked my mom and stepdad to mail me the footbed from my old shoes so I could put them on top of my current ones for extra cushion. I think it’s going to help as long as my pinky toes don’t get too squished. The grade of the climb felt steeper than stratton, which made my right Achilles’ tendon protest. I took a short break to eat poptarts while sweat dripped in my eyes at this viewpoint. 

Then I resumed the slog. The trail opened up to a field that’s a ski slope in winter. It was a nice change in surface and view, but the hill was deceptively steep. 

Here’s the view south behind me: 

There’s a 360 degree view at the top and I felt a little sad about not having camped here, but not sad enough to wish I had skipped the hostel. 

I sat on the ski lift bench for another break with flip phone and shutterbug. Flip phone actually lost his phone at the yoga festival. He must have been drunk off of all the free granola bars he was handed, which he later made into a Nutella wrap. By the time I made moves to leave it was about 1130, which was just late enough to justify staying in the sun to eat lunch on the summit instead on a rock somewhere in the woods. A woman named picnic also ate with us. We were actually at upper goose pond at the same time, but I didn’t remember her. Oops. None of us had much to talk about so it was a somewhat silent but congenial lunch. Here’s flip phone making his organic hiker trash special:

A gaggle of day hikers showed up as I was preparing my pb Frito wrap. A kid of about 12 was there with his grandparents (they had adorable brown bag sandwich lunches). he stared and smiled at me while I made my food. 

The descent from bromley was much like that of Stratton and Glastenbury in terms of grade and terrain. It’s interesting to see the patterns between mountains. Vermont seems to have a lot of super green forest with pines and moss for the first mile from each summit. It smells like Christmas. Then it switches to drier vegetation with a bit more brown and far less moss. Near the bottom of bromley, I ran into a family of 3 repainting the white blazes on trees. I felt so excited to see this in action, which I told them as they approached. I thanked them for helping and then they gave me a peanut butter cup as trail magic. I walked away thinking about how great it would be to share this small encounter with you guys and realized I should have gotten their picture. I debated the effort and the anxiety of asking for a few seconds, but decided it was worth it. I dumped my pack on the ground and went back up the hill a few yards to take this: 

The trail continued down to Mad Tom Notch rd, which seemed like a popular place to park. I ran into shutterbug taking the end of his lunch break on a good rock. He said something about how we had to climb after this, so I took the opportunity for yet another break on his rock. Flip phone passed through and we lamented the lack of water today. Yesterday there had been numerous streams that weren’t on my map, so I loaded the minimum amount of water when I left the hostel. It’s good that it wasn’t hotter or I would have been painfully dehydrated versus mildly so. The weather was in fact perfect for hiking. There was a cloudy stint over styles peak that included a passing drizzle, but otherwise it was a sunny day with a generous breeze. 

After my break, I made the climb up to styles peak. It felt endless with several false summits. In other words, I climbed and the trail flattened out to what seemed like the top, but then it continued to climb yet again. I finally reached the summit with a small viewpoint where I intended to take a break. However, a massive swarm of flies descended upon me as I took the first bite of my snack. I cursed and slapped and hurried back into my pack. I had to scarf my food while picking my way down the rocky descent that was steeper than my knees cared for with a full pack. 

The trail climbed to yet another ridge that allowed for partial views of mountains to either side of me. Then it took a sharp left and headed down the hillside at an unfortunate angle that let me know my legs were tired. Somewhere in there I was passed by moss and disco. 

Moss must think I’m ridiculous because every time he approaches I’m taking pictures of his dog like I’ve never seen one before. About a mile and a half later, I was at my campsite for the night. 415pm! This is what moderation looks like. Getting to camp early enough that you have to wait for dinner. My feet were sore throughout the day, but markedly less so than they have been. 

When I got to camp, shutterbug was swatting at the air. Not a good sign for the bug quotient. I surveyed the tenting options and found a nice spot on pine needles that I meant to take a picture of and forgot. I set up my bed and filtered water immediately so I could try to catch up on hydrating. As I sat at the picnic table reminding myself of the rough sketch I had mapped out for the week, I heard a hiker approach saying well, well, look who’s here. I turned to find fearless with her neon pink gaiters heading into camp. She’s part of the group of women that I met at the cookie lady’s. She said Snow White and peregrina were somewhere far behind her. Then she set about filtering water for both of them so they would have less work to do when they arrived. She told me a bit about peregrina’s story. Apparently she’s not thru hiking. She’s simply walking from PA to a book group retreat in VT in July. 
I decided to build a fire to help with the bugs and to keep me from eating dinner at 5p. Shutterbug was a good sport and helped me collect firewood. Then we tried to start a fire in the ring by the picnic table, but he kept overstacking the kindling teepee I had made. I finally had to ask him to stop because it was driving me crazy. The fire took forever to get started and then was anemic at best until the wind kicked up and snow white piled on more wood than I would have expected to be functional (top picture). She arrived around 6, immediately plopped down at the table and started shoving food in her face, which she did for the next 40 minutes. We had an amusing dinner together with fearless and Snow White picking at each other as old friends do. We were all a bit worried about peregrina, but her pattern is to arrive pretty late. She gets distracted easily and doesn’t walk very quickly. 
After dinner we threw our bear lines. Fearless made fun of how heavy my food bag is and I made her show me what she eats. I’m pretty sure I eat about twice the amount she does. But you should see her stockpile of mini payday bars. I think she had like 20 of them. As we wound down and started to retreat to our tents, two NOBOs arrived. I thought for sure they would keep walking because there was at least another hour of daylight to be had, but they stopped for the night. One of them has a prosthetic leg from the knee down. I felt horrified by the way fearless pointed and said “what is that? What happened?” The kid joked that he’d been attacked by a bear, but then he gave the real answer which is that he was born without a fibula. 
I went over to the shelter to sign the register while the NOBOs settled in. They were chatty and amusing. The one named bumblebee kept pulling stuff out of his bag, including foot balm and a novel. I couldn’t help but remark that he carried more than any NOBO I’d seen so far. He joked that he was actually a heavyweight hiker and loathed the self righteous ultralight people. They mocked our bear lines and gave the typical NOBO response that goes something like: I haven’t hung a bear bag since (insert many, many miles) ago and I’ve never had a problem. I think I’ll stick with my system even if it’s possibly pointless. 
Peregrina strolled in around 730. She had apparently carried like 7 pounds of water from a stream about a mile south of camp because she was worried the water source would be running at the shelter. I busied myself with getting ready for bed to avoid her conversation vortex, which I felt guilty about but being polite conflicted with my sleep campaign. Now I’m finishing this to the sound of Snow White snoring, the stream running just below the shelter (which I forgot to mention is right on the trail – my favorite because it involves less walking), and the NOBOs shooting the shit in the shelter. My eyes burn from the smoke and my legs are on fire from the newest batch of bug bites. There’s no cell service here, which I know is one of the reasons I’m about to go to sleep at 9p instead of 10 or later. 
Mile 1650.7 to mile 1660.8 (10.1) 

Total miles: 657.6
Creature feature: another quiet day in the woods BUT I saw many, many piles of poop with giant hoof tracks nearby. I wondered if they might actually be moose, because treebeard had mentioned seeing moosetracks. Fearless confirmed later that they were indeed moose droppings. So that’s exciting. I doubt I’ll get to see an actual moose, but this means there’s a remote possibility. 

Day 61: soggy rumination edition

It poured all night long. The rain woke me up throughout the night as it drummed on the tin roof of the shelter. Around 5am, I saw the red beams of people moving around in the shelter. I had intentions to get the 10.5 miles for the day out of the way in time to have lunch in Manchester and get to the hostel in the early afternoon to work through a backlog of blog posts and get off my feet. With that in mind, I forced myself to get out of my sleeping bag and retrieve my food bag from the rain. It’s comforting to watch other people teeter and hobble with their first few steps. We all look like weebles for the first few minutes of being upright.
I sat on the bench under the shelter porch and put my breakfast together through half open eyes. I have to do something about the amount of sleep I’m getting. It’s an hour or two short nearly every night. As I ate, the couple from Tennessee (Lewis & Clark) squished and folded and squished their air mattresses some more to get them packed away. Then they joined me in eating silent breakfast. The stratton pond shelter has a huge porch with a picnic table and two benches along the length of each side. so many surfaces for hikers to spread their gear and their butts. After breakfast, I went through the task of changing into my shorts in my sleeping bag, which is easier said than done when you’re clammy from all the rain, sweating through the night and covered in borrowed bug spray. I’ve managed to bum spray from 2-3 people every day. Thank goodness. I think i would have gone even more mad without it. It’s like everything with wings in VT bites. One bite on the outside of my ankle got angry and swollen with a red circle around it. Not to worry, it’s not a tick, but my body definitely does not like whatever creature attacked me. 

I was on the trail around 615. Trail may be a strong word for much of what I walked through for the first two hours. There were mud pits scattered throughout much of the morning and small seasonal sources of water were transformed into streams that spilled onto the trail in many places. I managed to keep my feet from being submerged in muddy water for about 20 minutes. As I tried to cling to the edge of one gnarly spot, my right foot slid into the heart of the puddle and i nearly fell trying to prevent the other foot from going in too. There’s a spectrum of wet feet ranging from clammy to actively gushing water from your shoes. It may seem futile, but even after they get submerged, I try really hard to stay out of the deepest part of puddles to avoid the feeling of water filling my shoes. 

I gave up on my raincoat after about two miles. It felt like a greenhouse and the rain had slowed to a drizzle. It’s so much easier to walk in warm rain, but at a certain point it started pouring so back on the raincoat went until the sun came out around 11. I felt rushed and preoccupied most of the morning. I was talking myself down from the anxiety ledge over something personal, which sort of helped, but I kept getting stuck in a loop of playing out conversations. Such a pointless exercise. I should have put on music, but I ruminated instead. My second career. The elevation changes were pretty mild today. The terrain ranged from 12 foot wide mud pits to 3 foot wide root-filled tunnels. Around the halfway mark, the trail took us down a woods road, which was a nice break from feeling closed in by a wall of green. 

At the intersection where the trail turns back into the woods, there’s an overlook called Prospect Rock (a popular name for viewpoints that look down on towns) (too picture for today). I love sunny days more than anything, but there’s also something to be said for the mysterious feeling of clouds hanging over the ridges. Weezy and her new hiking partner got to the viewpoint right behind me. She has friends lined up to join her for all 12 of her days that she’s out section hiking the Long Trail. I attempted to engage, but they were somewhat insular, so I turned inward and ate a snack in silence. Then I made my way back across the dirt road and into the woods where the trail finally rolled up and down in such a way that made for far few mud flats. Weezy and her friend (whose name I think is Wyoming) passed me as I stopped to filter water. About an hour later, I passed them as they finished up a snack break. It felt awkward to walk by in total silence, so I said “that’s a nice rock” as I passed and Weezy said “yep” looking away from and continued talking to her friend. Something about the distant response pushed me over the edge and I started to cry as I walked away. It’s hard to even explain why because who is Weezy to me anyway? But it pushed all of my lonely insecure buttons that were already half depressed. I definitely should have put music on at that point, but I think I was too dazed and sad to realize what would help. The last 3 miles were numb and listless. I was still somewhat able to appreciate my surroundings, especially the many streams that weren’t on my map. the amount of water felt like I was somewhere. 

I made it to the road crossing around 1215 where I met a guy in his late twenties named Kick Step who was also hitching into town. We stood with our thumbs out and I tried to look pleasant, which was not easy to do given my mood and the amount of mud caked to my legs. They looked like a pollock painting. As we stood there, an older gentleman named shutterbug (for obvious reasons), arrived. We had been assured by the caretaker at the top of Stratton Mountain than it would be a cinch to get a ride at that parking lot, and she was right. About 5 minutes after I arrived, we had a ride with a guy whose car smelled like stale beer from what I think was a keg bucket in the trunk area. All 3 of us squished into the beermobile and made small talk for the 10 minute drive to the Price Chopper. I wandered around the store with my pack in the lower part of my mini-cart, trying hard to stick to my list because I knew I had a box of food waiting for me at the shelter. so far I haven’t really run into the problem of not liking my mailed food. The only thing i’m getting tired of are tuna packets, so I’m going to switch to the trusty peanut butter frito wrap for awhile. I also didn’t realize the tuna packets weigh 3 oz a piece, so maybe the transition can save me a bit of weight too. (Are all of these details getting old? I can’t say that I have the ability to omit them, but I do wonder how much people skim over them. but that’s fine. this is partially for me too). I bought fixings for dinner and yogurt for breakfast because the hostel has a full kitchen. Salad! in a bag, with avocado and lemon juice. Oh avocado, how I miss you. 
As I bagged my groceries into a stuff sack dedicated for the odd carrying of things, I heard my name called out in a drawl. I looked up to find Clark heading out of the store. He and Lewis had already eaten lunch and were finishing up their shopping. We all had separate plans to stay at the same hostel this evening with the exception of kickstart who was heading back to the trail. As I wheeled my cart outside, I realized my mistake in food shopping first beacuse now I had to carry my groceries around while I walked to the outfitters and lunch. Speaking of lunch, it was already over an hour past eating time for me. I ate a banana and dithered over where to get food. I decided on the burrito place because it was in the same direction as the outfitter and there’s no backtracking in town, if it can be helped. the walk to the outfitters was in full sun, which felt draining even though it was all of 10 minutes. As I approached the store, I saw the pot smoking duo from the glastenbury firetower. then when I went inside, I saw a couple named beaver and llama that stayed at the shelter the night before (also at the same hostel tonight) and peregrina, who I last saw in Dalton. She was her enthusiastic self and gave me a hug when she saw me. When I said I was heading down the street to eat, she invited herself a long. I was happy for company at the time, but quickly regretted my decision because she took another 30 minutes to get out of the store. Then she wanted to go say goodbye to Ozzie (the white dog I met a couple of days ago). I finally had to say, hey I’m going to go start eating because I’m about to lose it. Regarding Ozzie, he is heading home early because he had terrible chaffing from his harness. I noticed it the night I met him. I asked his owner about the chaffing, but he seemed nonplussed because Ozzie hadn’t complained. Our dog Red came away from a porcupine with quills covering his face and never made a peep, so I feel skeptical about the idea of dogs reliably forecasting their pain. But I let it go, because I figured he knows his dog better than I do. So no more Ozzie pictures. 

At lunch (aka 2p meltdown time), Peregrina talked nonstop, which meant she wasn’t really eating her food. I finally had to say hey, eat your food because I want to go get ice cream and get to the hostel. Yes, that’s right. I got ice cream again. Chocolate cookie something or other and cookie dough. Not the most exciting, but it was cold and that felt good. Manchester feels like a shiny mountain town, which is an image that is solidified by the presence of factory outlets and gaggles of tourists. A strange but useful little place. I called the hostel owner as I finished my ice cream and he arrived about 10 minutes later. I bid Peregrina farewell and was finally on my way to the Green Mountain House hostel, about two hours later than I had hoped. 
this place is incredible. It’s an entire single family home dedicated as the hostel with a smaller adjacent building where the owners live during the hostel season. The downstairs has a fully stocked kitchen and dining area, a computer (from which I’m typing this entry. SO MUCH EASIER than my phone), and a large living room full of couches. Upstairs there are 3 large bedrooms with twin beds, sleeping a total of 7 people, 2 bathrooms, and a laundry room. It’s by far the nicest place I’ve stayed and I wish I could take a zero day here tomorrow, but there’s no room at the inn. Not that I really need a zero, but the mud has sucked my soul these last few days. I’m finishing this up to the sound of a quiet house because the other hikers have wisely gone to bed before me. I meant to write this earlier, but there were interesting conversations to be had and chores to be done. I got a few tips on where to stay in NH. I aired out my sleeping bag on the clothesline after yet another night of sweating profusely. Did some laundry. Cooked myself dinner while the rest of the people waited for over an hour for their pizza delivery. Talked to a guy named tornado about loneliness and hiking alone. He’s hiked with the same woman for over 600 miles and they parted ways, so he feels afloat. He also has experience with trenchfoot (and a subsequent infection), which I am now frightened of because I don’t have camp shoes and there’s just no way to keep your feet dry in this mud. Now on to editing and posting old entries because there’s no telling what kind of cell signal I will have in the coming weeks. In all likelihood I will have to post them in chunks when I stay at hostels. 
Mile 1640.1 to mile 1650.7 (10.6)

Total miles: 647.5
Creature feature: pretty quiet day in the woods. can’t remember seeing anything of note but I did catch some great sunset clouds and another newt

Day 59: moping edition 

I woke up around 430. How does this happen on sunrise mornings? I felt drugged as I grabbed my phone and put it inside my sleeping bag to dampen the sound of the alarm. One of the NOBOs from last night decided to drag her stuff back up the mountain and camped under the fire tower as well. I half slept for the remaining 7 minutes until the samba noise rang in my ear. I thought about snoozing, but then I remembered the 5 flights of fire tower steps and how creaky I feel in the morning. I grabbed my raincoat for extra wind protection and my phone charger to make sure my phone lasted through the obsessive picture taking (I usually charge it in the morning right after I wake up to prevent myself from running down a newly charged battery at night). Then I ducked down into the ferns so I wouldn’t have to pee in the middle of sunrise (mostly to prevent walking up and down all those stairs again). I saw a headlamp coming up the path as I used the bathroom. I figured I wouldn’t be alone for such an opportunity. It’s not often you get a 360 degree view above treeline. 

It wasn’t as windy at the top, but it was still really cold. Three other hikers came for the show (2 from last night, but not the pot smoking duo). One of them went back down to get her sleeping and then stood like a puffy worm watching the sun rise. I was envious, but not enough to go get my own. 

After the sun crested the ridge in the distance, I went back to bed. Woke up once around 630 and considered getting up, but laid still long enough to fall back asleep until 8am. A new trail record I think. Even then, it took some effort to get out of my tent to retrieve my food bag, which survived the night! I ate cold breakfast from the warmth of my sleeping bag. Then I slowly packed up, trying to do as much as possible from inside my tent. The incessant bugs that I thought were gnats are actually the infamous Vermont black flies. They are THE WORST. When I finally had to, I crawled out of my tent and packed the rest of my gear. While I did that, a gaggle of NOBOs arrived from the shelter to climb up the tower. I bummed some bug spray off of one of them and went back to packing. I could hear their glee and awe as they climbed above the treeline. I left my campsite pessimistically wondering when they would catch up to me. 
The trail was lined with ferns and those blue beaded yellow lilies that I’ve come to love. It smelled of pine, especially when passing downed trees. As I slowly dropped in elevation, the terrain became rockier. It took about 20 minutes for the first NOBO to blow by. The rest came in waves. I felt envious of their pace but even more so their camaraderie. They’re mostly hiking alone at their own pace all day, but they get the joy of familiar faces at the end of the day. I think that’s one of the hardest things about being out here alone. I can handle the hours of solo walking in the woods. Sure, it’s more enjoyable to have the right company for that too. It’s not seeing someone I know or who knows me at the end of the day that makes me the loneliest. Of course I’m totally projecting this fantasy joy these people are feeling because for all I know they’re just as lonely as I am. Anyway, it’s a pretty harsh transition from the life of coming home to a long term partner. But I suppose it’s good practice for when I get back to Brooklyn and that pattern remains my reality to some degree. Some people thrive off of the unpredictability of who they might meet. I enjoy it at times, but when I round the corner to a new shelter and hear people there, I can feel myself bracing for the social effort that I’m about to expend. 
It’s hard to articulate, and I don’t have the energy to rework that section, but the gist is that this morning I felt alone and sad and thoughts of going home to the comfort of people who make me feel good kept flashing through my head. I actually don’t remember much of the terrain from this morning because I was so far in my head. My mind also strayed towards blaming myself for not having a trail family, as they’re called. I kept trying to find the pattern between the trail and my friendships. Read: what am I doing wrong? But I know that’s not the answer. Timing has so much to do with it. I tried to let go of the fantasy alternative hike in which I have a close knit group of friends to share the insanity with. At one point, I got so overcome that I cried. Looking up at the sky helped. It was bright blue with puffy clouds and something about it made me reflexively take a deep breath. It’s a little embarrassing to share this, but it’s part of the experience as a self critical solo hiker, so I will leave it as is. 

I made it to kid gore shelter around 1140. My plan was to use the privy and take a short snack break since I’d eaten lunch so late. when I arrived there were 2 friendly long trail hikers eating lunch. In light of my morning of self pity, I decided I should take advantage of what the trail had thrown me and ignore the monologue about them wanting to be left alone. We had an enjoyable break together that was capped off by meeting flip phone, a Canadian guy in his mid twenties. He had apparently been at Seth warner with the older group of women and he knew my name because they’d asked about me. I hope I can run into them again somewhere down the road. I feel too fast for the older people I enjoy and too slow for the younger people I connect with. Excuse me while I whine a lot today. 
After lunch, I set out for story spring shelter with my lunch company, Weezy and Rookie, neither of whom have ownership over their trail names yet. You can tell when a trail name is new or someone is new to trail names because there’s hesitation when people introduce themselves. Sometimes (as in their case) people will give both their real name and their trail name. As it turns out, they walk a very similar pace to me, so we were together for about a mile until Weezy needed a break. I kept going because I felt self conscious about their desire to be around me. Then I went into over analyzing mode once again. Theme of the day, but it was less intense this time. 

The trail was a bit of a tunnel after lunch, with rolling hills and thick forest around me. The weather could not have been nicer. There was one more open view about 3 miles from the shelter. Then back to rocks and mud pits, of which there were many today. I couldn’t bear the thought of wet feet after having dry ones for the better part of a day and a half, so hopped and twisted my way around the muck. My feet were sore from trying to hop too far from rock to rock to keep my shoes dry. When I wasn’t dodging puddles, I was hobbling over rocks and roots. I also felt drained from the eleven hours of hiking yesterday combined with a late bedtime and an early rise. Going back to bed didn’t do much in the way of restful sleep. 
I made it to the shelter around 4. The tent sites are rocky and lopsided. I wandered around for a few minutes eyeing them all multiple times hoping they’d be better upon closer inspection. I finally settled on one with a slight downward slant but the fewest lumps and rocks. Weezy and rookie arrived as I was finishing my tent set up. After bumming some bug spray, I gave them space to be exhausted. I went into the woods well beyond my tent, and ran a bear line. Then I filtered water and finished setting up my bed. I decided to soak my feet in the stream because it had the perfect set up. I plopped down amongst the moss and roots and dunked my feet for as long as I could stand the ice water. So basically 20 seconds at a time. VT stream water is significantly colder than MA! When I was done freezing my feet, I came back to my tent and went about sewing my shorts. It was tedious and I almost gave up, but I forced myself to finish. Here’s the end result. 

By that point my stomach was rumbling, so I grabbed my food bag from the bear line and made myself dinner. I felt good about my decision to stay here instead of pushing ahead to a campsite about 3 miles up. I needed to be around people and there were a few good conversations. Weezy asked me if I was a teacher because she felt like I had that vibe. When I told her I’m a therapist, she felt validated in her read of me. A couple who sound as if they’re from the Deep South, or possibly West Virginia, talked with Flip phone and a French guy about the Camino trails in Spain and Portugal. As I finished my dinner, I heard JD’s voice say my name behind me. I had mixed feelings about seeing him because I am not ready for his droning on, but I figured that mean halfway wouldn’t be far behind. As it turns out, Halfway actually passed the shelter sometime when I was in my tent! Or possibly when I was hanging my bear line. I don’t know, but I’m so disappointed that I missed him. Chances are high that I will run into him tomorrow, but it’s so ridiculous that he walked right past me. Timing. 
After dinner, I hid out in my tent, half involving myself in weezy and flip phone’s conversation. I feel guilty for not being more engaged with JD, but we are just not compatible. Now I’m finishing this to the sound of frogs in the distance, the squeaking and rustling of hikers shifting about and the odd twig snapping. This shelter has had some notorious bear activity in the last few days, so I’m curious to see if one surfaces tonight. I think I will get an early start to get some miles in before the rain. 
Mile 1621 to mile 1629.6 (8.6) 

Total miles: 626.4 
Creature feature: several garter snakes (which now make me think of cotton jumping back) and a dragonfly that I haven’t seen before by this beaver pond: 

Day 56: salad edition 

In the interest of my stamina for editing and writing hiking posts, I’m going to skim through the rundown of my zero day. It started with my second favorite breakfast of yogurt, banana, and my trail granola mix. I could see the mountains Cotton and I had climbed the day before to my right… 

and the mountain I have to climb tomorrow to my left. 

Then my friend left for work and I had the space entirely to myself to make a mess, lounge around, and work through my to do list. I did a small pack shakedown, trying to find ways to lighten the load on my feet. I also weighed my food to see where the weight sinks are (trail mix is the worst offender), and I finally did my laundry. For lunch, I had another incredible salad along with farm eggs (over medium with avocado and mustard), and a few Fritos so my body didn’t go into shock. There were intense thunderstorms on and off all day, making me feel even better about my decision to zero. I nearly had my toe eaten by the neighbor kitty. 

I soaked my feet in the tub and apologized to the gods for running water during a thunderstorm. Sadly I think walking around barefoot on the wooden floors aggravated my left foot. It actually felt worse by the end of the day, which was perplexing and frustrating. For dinner, sciacca and I went to pedrin’s, which is a food stand across from the north Adams Walmart. We got grilled cheese, French fries (regular and sweet) and ice cream. Before dinner, we went to Walmart in search of new shorts for me so I can wear something above my knees (to let my “knee pits” breathe as sciacca puts it). Sadly, no knee length spandex to be had in the entire store. Why are they so hard to find?? But after dinner, we went to optima sports and found something very close to what I wanted. About 2 inches shorter than desired, but they will do! Breathable knee pits for me. Now on to a hiking post since my signal is finally good enough to upload pictures. 
Miles: 0 

Total miles: 589 

Creature feature: a starling like bird eating a soggy tortilla by the wheel of Sciacca’s car in the parking lot of pedrins.